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June 27, 2011

Movie Review: Lenny Bruce Without Tears (1972)

When you listen to Lenny Bruce today, most of his material doesn't make sense to the average person. It's not because the material is bad. Lenny was just topical, and daily life in the 1960s doesn't ring true to those of us born in the '70s or later. He mentions people in the news, films of the time and experiences that were common at that point in history. One thing that was always true about him was that even when he wasn't funny, he was interesting to listen to.

Buy Lenny Bruce Without Tears on DVD

Though this is billed as a documentary, Without Tears seems more like a compilation of performance clips and a long form interview with a few Behind the Music segments wedged in between. It's interesting to see the uncut segments from The Steve Allen Show, but it just seems like lazy filmmaking. The information about Lenny is interesting, but I could learn all of it in a ten minute conversation. It touches his legal troubles toward the end, but it relies again on a long segment from Lenny's performances. The bad part about it is that it's not in there to pad for time. The whole movie is just over an hour long.

There are a few interesting interviews, including one with Jean Shepherd, the guy who's known for A Christmas Story, in which he believes that Lenny's existence could set off a new kind of holocaust. I'm not even kidding. It made me glad that I don't like that horribly overrated movie. The most disturbing part of the movie is footage of Lenny's apartment when he's found dead. It even shows Lenny, naked, half in his bathroom, half in his hallway, rope tied around his arm, with a detective next to him, checking for a pulse. I don't know that it was something anyone needed to see. It wasn't gory or disturbing. It was just sad. He was only forty.

If you want to learn about Lenny Bruce, you'd probably be better off watching Dustin Hoffman portray him in the film Lenny, which was nominated for every major Academy Award. That's a great film with moments that closely follow Lenny's autobiography. The documentary is good for TV performance footage, but not much else. I say skip it and watch the biopic. You'll be happy you did.

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